TUESDAY, MAY 11, 2021
Youngsters attack Buckeye State: Long ago and far away, the western world's first great journalist recorded what he had seen.
He compiled a list of the forces assembled on the wide plains before Troy. His lengthy recitation dominates Book II of The Iliad. This is the way he began:
Sing to me now, you Muses who hold the halls of Olympus!
You are goddesses, you are everywhere, you know all things—
all we hear is the distant ring of glory, we know nothing—
who were the captains of Achaea? Who were the kings?...
For the record, Homer's sexual politics were at times impressive and strong.
After a bit more throat-clearing of this traditional type, Homer's roll call of the troops began. We're using Professor Fagles' translation:
First came the Boeotian units led by Leitus and Peneleos:
Arcesilaus and Prothoenor and Clonoius shared command
of the armed men who lived in Hyria, rocky Aulis,
Schoenus, Sclkos and Eteonus spurred with hills,
Thespia and Graea, the dancing rings of Mycalessus,
men who lived round Harma, Ilesion, and Erythrae
and those who settled Eleon, Hyle and Peteon,
Ocalea, Medeon's fortress walled and strong.
We'd like to post the full roll call, but Homer goes on for more than three hundred additional lines, listing those who journeyed to Troy to avenge a tribal insult.
(We humans have always behaved in such ways, top leading scholars all tell us.)
Today, we begin a series of reports by reviewing two similar roll calls. The background would be this:
Within the past two weeks, the Washington Post and the New York Times prepared and published separate reports about the shooting death of 16-year-old Ma'Khia Bryant. This young person had been in foster care in Columbus, Ohio at the time of her death.
Each report discussed the particular circumstances of this fatal shooting. Each report discussed the way Bryant had ended up in foster care. Each report offered an overview of the state of Ohio's foster care system.
All three topics are important. Who had these newspapers charged with the task of exploring these topics? We start with the roll call at the Washington Post.
The Post's front-page report appeared on Friday, April 30. Modern Muses say that these reporters were assigned this important task:
The Roll Call at the Post:
Tim Craig: Craig is twenty-one years out of college (Gannon, class of 1999). His official bio at the Post tells us this:
Tim Craig is a national reporter on the America desk, often traveling to faraway places to bring the best and the worst of the country to Washington Post readers. Before joining the National desk in 2017, he served as The Post's Afghanistan-Pakistan bureau chief from 2013 through 2016. Craig was based in Islamabad, Pakistan, and in Kabul but traveled frequently throughout the region, the Middle East and Europe. In 2011, he also did a stint in The Post's Baghdad bureau. Craig began his career at The Post in 2003, serving as a Maryland government reporter, the Richmond bureau chief, and a D.C. City Hall reporter. Before joining The Post, he spent three years covering government and politics and urban affairs at the Baltimore Sun.
In the byline to the Post's report, Craig was the featured reporter. In a move we don't quite understand, he had joined forced with another veteran journalist:
Randy Ludlow: Ludlow is a "senior reporter" at the Columbus Dispatch. He has worked for major newspapers in Ohio since 1983, spending 19 years at the now-defunct Cincinnati Post before moving to the Dispatch in 2002.
In what seems to be a self-description, Ludlow tells us this at the Dispatch web site:
Old-school muckraker. Journalist of nearly 50 years. Champion of governmental transparency and access to public records. National, multiple-time Ohio winner of First Amendment awards. Honored by SPJ as Best Reporter in Ohio and for best investigative reporting. Regional Emmy winner for team project with WBNS-TV. Working Capitol Square and the Statehouse since 1992. Alumnus of the late, great Cincinnati Post (19 years).
For good or for ill, the Washington Pot had assigned this important report to a pair of experienced journalists. At the New York Times, a somewhat different demographic clambered ashore at Troy.
The Roll Call at the Times:
The Times' report on these important topics appeared above the fold on the paper's front page on Sunday, May 9. The byline featured the names of three reporters. The first name listed was this:
Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs: Bogel-Burroughs is almost two years out of college (Cornell, class of 2119). He recently created a false impression concerning the death of Daunte Wright. His official bio goes like this:
Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs reports on national news for The New York Times. He is from upstate New York and previously reported in Baltimore, Albany, and Isla Vista, Calif.
The third reporter in the byline was Will Wright. He's almost six years out of college (Kentucky, class of 2016). His company bio says this:
Will Wright is a national reporting fellow for The New York Times. He has reported from Oregon, Louisiana, Texas and Kentucky. He previously covered eastern Kentucky for the Lexington Herald-Leader.
For the record, the national reporting fellowship program brings young reporters to the Times to serve one-year stints. The program is a recent replacement for the summer intern program.
Bogel-Burroughs and Wright are virtual cub reporters. There isn't necessarily anything wrong with that.
They were joined by Ellen Barry, an experienced Times reporter. She graduated from Yale in the class of 1993. Her company bio says this:
Ellen Barry is the New England bureau chief of The New York Times.
She was previously the London-based chief international correspondent, and before that, the paper's South Asia bureau chief, based in New Delhi.
In 2020, she was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in feature writing for “The Jungle Prince of Delhi.” Before India, Ms. Barry was also a correspondent and then bureau chief for The Times in Moscow. While in Russia, she was part of a team which won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for international reporting for a series on impunity in the country’s justice system.
Ms. Barry was also a Pulitzer finalist for feature writing in 2001, for beat reporting in 2004, and for breaking news, as part of a team, in 2007. She covered mental health and rural New England for The Boston Globe, and covered the American South for The Los Angeles Times.
Barry is quite experienced, and award-winning. We don't know how her name ended up on that Times front-page report.
Briefly, let's be clear. There's no reason why someone who's just out of college can't be a capable reporter, even an outstanding reporter. That said, we were struck by the contrasting call of the roll at these rival newspapers.
What happened on the day Ma'Khia Bryant died? Why was she in foster care, and what is the current state of Ohio's foster care system?
These strike us as important topics. The Post assigned two experienced reporters to run these topics down.
The Times took a different approach. They assigned a young reporter just out of college, along with someone in the successor to the paper's intern program. Somehow, the paper's highly experienced New England bureau chief ended up in the mix.
In any given situation, young reporters might bring fresher eyes to a particular assignment. In some given set of circumstances, veteran reporters may be stuck in the past in some way which isn't helpful.
In this case, we'll only say this:
In certain major ways, the young reporters at the Times offered a front-page report we would describe as embarrassing and hapless. Unless your goal is to stick to the types of Storylines which make Our Town's hearts glad.
As they reported Ma'Khia Bryant's death, the kid reporters went after the whole state of Ohio! They offered an overview of the state's foster care system which we would describe, on a journalistic basis, as arrogant, unintelligent—dumb.
In fairness, we'd have to say that their report did favor modern Storyline, in which official agencies will always be wrong in cases like this and some single study can always be found to support whatever point the "journalist" wishes to (seem to) make.
Hector was slain on the plains outside Troy. In our view, nuance and judgment met similar fates in the Times' front-page report.
In fairness, editors waved the report into print. In our view, the report is a reflection of prevailing New York Times culture, as devised along the wide sands of the Hamptons, "where the breakers crash and drag."
Tomorrow, we'll start to show you what the young reporters wrote. Can Our Town survive this regime? Experts suggest that it can't!
Tomorrow: Reporters fight the power